Barcode Print Quality

Closeup of a regular product barcode, readable from INCITS 182-1990 print quality instructions.

INCITS 182-1990 (S2017) – Guideline for Bar Code Print Quality, an American National Standard, establishes procedures for measuring quality parameters for the optical characteristics of printed barcodes.

They convey a heap of information and their data facilitates comprehension of product classification and performance and aids in determining future production, but to the consumer, a barcode is hardly anything beyond a series of parallel lines. This marking on product surfaces standardizes items manufactured, harvested, or generated from multitudinous and even unrelated industries as they are exchanged through retail. Barcodes also are integral in hospitals for identifying patients.

This overarching connection and enhanced efficiency derives from the appearance of the small barcode. Interestingly, while the barcode has undergone alterations and adaptations throughout the years, the original vision of its creator closely resembles the ubiquitous barcode of today.

In the late 1940s, an overcome supermarket manager pleaded with the dean of Drexel University to devise a way of expediting checkout. While the dean did not pursue this predicament, their conversation was overheard by Bob Silver, a junior postgraduate, who shared the information with Joe Woodland, a recent graduate of the university.

While pondering this issue on the beach, Woodland underwent an epiphany. Inspired by Morse code, he drew four lines in the sand. However, within seconds, he took the four fingers he had used to shape these parallel lines and swept them round into a circle.

Thinking that this circle would be more suitable than a simple pattern of lines, Woodland and Silver designed the first barcode in a bullseye shape, and their patent for the concept was granted in 1952. There is little information as to what these two actually built, but around this time, they made a crude prototype of a device for “reading” the barcode.

Barcode Patent Original First1

Unfortunately, their bullseye-shaped barcode was slightly ahead of its time, when reliable scanning was improbable. This issue was remedied almost ten years later, once the first laser (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) was built. While the purpose of this device was apprehensively uncertain at the time, it, of course, found usage across the spectrum of industry, including scanning items at checkout.

A series of further events brought the bullseye barcode back into the limelight, as it was adopted by supermarkets and different retailers.

In the early 1970s, the Ad Hoc Committee of the Universal Product Identification Code, comprised primarily of representatives of the grocery trade, sought to find a way to introduce a Universal Product Code (UPC), a barcode that would be common to all goods sold in supermarkets and imprinted by manufacturers and retailers. This group primarily considered options similar to the bullseye, until IBM made a submission.

This was created by George Laurer (interestingly, Joe Woodland was employed at IBM at the time but not involved), who started from scratch, designing the rectangular barcode under the requirements that it must have fewer than one in 20,000 undetected errors, use only ten digits, and be readable from any direction or speed. His design was approved, and the first rectangular UPC was scanned in 1974.

Red barcode scanner light at checkout that picks up INCITS 182-1990 barcode print.

While not an immediate success, by the early Twenty-First Century, the barcode was used by eighty to ninety percent of the top 500 companies in the United States. It now uses 12 digits. All of the advantages set forth by the shared barcode—immediate product identification, improved efficiency, accurate tracking—and the effort put into its design and deployment are supremely dependent on the scanner being able to “read” the barcode.

This gives the INCITS 182-1990 (S2017) standard immense importance. In its purpose to provide quality in the print quality of barcodes, by looking at measurement parameters for the bars, scanning lines, apertures, and the scan reflectance profile, this document’s usage assures the continuous, reliable retail of products.

When INCITS 182-1990 (S2017) was first published in 1990, it appeared under the designation ANSI X3.182-1990. This is because the standard was developed by the Accredited Standards Committee X3, Information Technology. This was the former name of the central US forum dedicated to creating technology standards for the next generation of innovation, the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS), an ANSI-accredited standards developing organization.

INCITS 182-1990 (S2017) – Guideline for Bar Code Print Quality is available on the ANSI Webstore.

1.Woodland, N. and Silver, B. (1952). Classifying Apparatus And Method. US002612994.

Share this blog post:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.